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Top surprising facts about the evolution of UK congestion, based on new study


Did you know that we drove most quickly on Christmas ’08 than any other day in 2008 and 2018 combined?

A recent report by ATS Euromaster gives the lowdown on our driving habits on UK roads, with these two years in focus.

We’ve pulled out some of the key findings from the article and highlighted a few bits and pieces that didn’t make the cut in the original story. Read on for the lowdown on congestion stats (including holidays, roads and times of day you’ll want to avoid) and whether we’re a nation of snails or high-octane speedsters.

Despite more cars on the road, congestion is easing

  • Between 2008 and 2018, there were five million more registered vehicles in circulation, but congestion marginally eased.
  • In 2020, traffic numbers had fallen even further, with weekend congestion down 78% (April 2018 vs April 2020). Of course, 2020 has been an unprecedented year for reasons we don’t need to explain, and in the months to come we should start to see traffic statistics go back to normal.

The M25, M1 and M60 are the busiest roads in the UK

The M25, M1 and M60 eclipse all other major motorways/A roads, with the M25 easily the busiest. Avoid 11 o’clock in the morning, when the M25 is under the most strain.

We’re rising earlier than ever to beat the Bank Holiday rush

Let’s turn our attention to UK Bank Holidays, which are seeing more and people rising at 5AM to beat the rush (2018 vs 2008). One reason for getting up before dawn? On a long drive, you don’t want to be on the road at midday when congestion is at its worst (a statistic that applies to both years under inspection). 

In fact, the number of cars on the M5 soars by 141% between 5AM and 11AM – the difference between enjoying an uninterrupted journey and sitting in bumper to bumper traffic.

This trend is borne out by other major motorways – including the M1, M4, M3, M42 and M40, across both years.

Summer months spur us to go faster

It’s a little-known fact that there’s been a 30% drop in casualties on UK roads (2018 vs 2008), with slower speeds on five of the six busiest motorways to boot. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re slowing to a crawl.

  • In fact, the fastest average driving speeds over an entire month all took place in 2018: June, followed by May and July of the same year. Summer clearly makes a difference, with sunny mornings and late evenings giving us the courage to go faster (we drove most quickly at 7AM in 2008 and 18:00 in 2018).
  • Across both years, the M63, A66(M) and A421 recorded the highest speeds. All three roads clocked an average velocity of 110/111 kph (or 68.3 mph).

We put our foot down on Christmas Day

People are in a hurry to get to their loved ones on Christmas Day (or perhaps escape them!). Christmas 2008 saw the fastest speeds of any 24-hour stretch across the two years in focus.

Want to learn more about UK traffic congestion? Check out the ATS Euromaster article in full, where there are great facts and even some lockdown findings to enjoy. Of particular note is the way COVID-19 has changed the way we travel. Spoiler alert: if you’re someone who has recently invested in a bicycle, you’re not alone.

Claire James